Environment & Science
11:15 am
Thu August 16, 2012

Michigan-based startup company takes you back to the farm

Figuring out how your food is grown is not always easy to do. Sometimes there are labels saying things like “free-range” or “certified naturally grown” but it can take some work to figure out what that means.

“So as a consumer, it’s just kind of like, ugh, I give up.”

Cara Rosaen and her husband Karl wanted a lot more information. They wanted our food system to be more transparent.

“And so we said, okay let’s just take you back to the story, to the pictures, all the things that are the core of the farm that will make you really know that that’s the truth, you know, go way beyond and way deeper than a label.”

Two years ago, they founded a startup company called RealTimeFarms.com. It's a crowd-sourced food guide that lets you learn more about the farms in your area.

The website shows a map of the U.S. with a bunch of dots on it. When you zoom in you can see photos of specific farms and what they grow.

Karl Rosaen shows me how it works.

“So I just clicked on Delight of Life Farm which apparently is in Suttons Bay, Michigan and they have garlic and pork and they have animal byproduct-free feed, antibiotic-free and growth hormone-free and they’re not cloned, so we know that much about them.”

Anybody can visit a farm, take photos and add what kinds of things the farmers grow and how they grow them.

Cara Rosaen says they’ve decided to make the site neutral. So they’re not promoting one kind of farm over another.

“It hasn’t been just about local or just about hyper-sustainable, it’s a guide to the whole food universe so, every farm. We’re really about transparency, not about judgment.”

"It hasn't been just about local or just about hyper-sustainable, it's a guide to the whole food universe so, every farm. We're really about transparency, not about judgment."

She says they decided early on they didn’t want any advertising to clutter the site.

But of course, they also had to make money.

Karl Rosaen is a software engineer. He was part of the team that launched Google’s first Android device. A few years ago, he quit his job at Google, he and Cara moved back to Michigan, and they started Real Time Farms.

Karl designed software to allow restaurants to link menu items online back to the farms they came from. And they’ve been selling the software to restaurants and food trucks.

Paul Kessenich owns Darcy’s Cart in Ann Arbor.

“When you’re navigating through the menu, you can pull your little mouse over the egg that’s in the breakfast burrito listed on the ingredients; you’ll see Grazing Fields Cooperative who supplies our eggs. So that’s just a great thing. I can put as much or as little sourcing information as I want.”

There are about a hundred restaurants linked to farms on Real Time Farms’ website.

But like any startup... things change. The Rosaens are now shifting away from working with restaurants... although they’ll let their current customers continue to use the software for free.

Real Time Farms is joining forces with a crowd-sourced cooking site called Food52.com.

Karl and Cara say they’re hoping to reach a lot more people this way, and get them more connected to the places their food is grown.

Tags: